Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Florida voters were expected to vote on a massive property tax cut in November, but now that's in doubt, as the St. Petersburg Times reports:
TALLAHASSEE -- A state judge stripped a controversial "tax swap" from the November ballot Thursday, saying it would mislead voters about the future of school funding.
Gov. Charlie Crist and other backers pledged a swift appeal. But the decision leaves state leaders again grappling to meet public demand for lower property taxes.
The proposed amendment to the state Constitution called for eliminating most school property taxes, resulting in at least a 25 percent tax cut for all property owners. The Legislature would have to replace the money, an estimated $9-billion to $11-billion, by increasing the sales tax, eliminating sales tax exemptions or cutting the budget.
Many critics felt it was an impossible calculation, since a 1-cent sales tax increase [NOTE FROM JOSH: the amendment limited any sales tax increase to one cent on the dollar] would raise just $4-billion.
The lawsuit argued that voters were being led to believe all lost school funding would be replaced. In fact, the guarantee was only for one year, 2010-2011, after which the Legislature would have discretion on how much money to spend on education.
In effect, the judge ruled that this was confusing because it was a tax cut (and cut to education funding) masquerading as a tax swap. It wouldn't be surprising to see that sort of muddled language from a citizen initiative. It also wouldn't be too shocking to see a state legislature try to pull a fast one on voters.
The Florida "tax swap" didn't come from a citizen initiative, however. It didn't come from the legislature either. It came from Florida's Tax & Budget Reform Commission.
What is the Tax & Budget Reform Commission? A body that is so august that it only meets once every 20 years. The group, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, spends months holding hearings, talking to experts and reflecting on the fiscal provisions of the Florida Constitution. Only after all of that, they vote on constitutional amendments to put before Florida's voters.
And, with all of that deliberation, Florida's elder statesmen couldn't come up with something that passed legal muster?
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